Thursday, March 13, 2008
Relative difficulty: Medium-Challenging
I think the puzzle was mostly Easy-Medium or Medium - until the NW, where I had to fight like hell to get real traction. APPLE PIE (16A: Mom's partner?) was the first thing that went in the grid, and from there it was a smooth progression from the NE down to the SE, then back up toward the NW. Couldn't get into the NW, so went down and polished off the SW (the second-hardest part of the puzzle), and then went back and scratched and clawed my way to the end. Getting CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE (17A: What a toaster may hold) very early didn't help much - not as much as I thought it would. As far as I was concerned US BANK (1A: Los Angeles's _____ Tower) and NORTON (15A: Alaska's _____ Sound) could have been anything. KNACK was very vaguely clued (6D: Touch - I wanted SMACK), while ATM was very absurdly clued (4D: Long green box? - when's the last time someone referred to money as "long green?" I'm not that thrilled about the "box" part, either). Somehow, some way, I was able to coax AMATOL out of my brain (32A: Bygone explosive), but I spelled it AMITOL, so at the end I was left with BRASS RIT for the most enigmatic and loopy (to my mind) of all today's answers: BRASS RAT (3D: M.I.T.'s class ring, familiarly). I'm sure M.I.T. grads everywhere are chirping with dorky glee, but I really have to wonder (out loud) if this is xword-worthy. Finally changed RIT to RAT and finished, but I was not at all sure I had everything right.
Got both 15-letter answers easily today: CHAMPAGNE BOTTLE was nice, but UH OH, SPAGHETTIOS is some kind of genius (61A: Refrain from eating pasta?). I somehow got the answer off of just the final few letters (figuring that "refrain" must be the word affected by the "?"). I haven't heard the SPAGHETTIOS jingle or seen an ad in what feels like two decades, but it's indelibly imprinted on my brain from my childhood. Other things I remember from my childhood: Dungeons & Dragons (34A: Dungeons & Dragons race = OGRES) and the 1984 Olympics (52D: Twins' name at the 1984 Olympics = MAHRE).
While the puzzle was mostly enjoyable, there was some cluing I didn't care for. Take 56D: Serenade, as the moon (bay at) - do wolves really "serenade?" Or do people "bay?" Something is lost in this equation. Then there's 57D: Bygone crown (tsar) - so the TSAR is the "crown"? Is that some kind of METONYM (36A: "The White House," for "the presidency," e.g.)? I don't like that there are two "bygone" clues in this puzzle (explosive, crown). Today's puzzle is heavily European, with the bouncy EUROPOP (38A: Abba's style) sitting on top of MILANO (44A: Lombardia's capital) and across the grid from LORRAINE (64A: Where to find Nancy). MILANO is a delicious Pepperidge Farms cookie - and that LORRAINE clue is nasty. I was trying to remember the name of the town where Nancy and Sluggo lived. Wait, I somehow left SAN REMO (7D: Post-W.W. I conference site) out of my Euronalysis. If only SPAGHETTIOS were actually Italian, this puzzle would have some claim on being the most Italian puzzle of the year.
- 58A: Noted fifth-century invaders (Jutes) - they invaded England, along with the Angles and Saxons.
- 60A: Regrettable E.R. status (D.O.A.) - this answer makes me laugh. "Regrettably, your husband was D.O.A., ma'am." "Regrettable" just seems too ... tepid. "We regret to inform you that you ... are dead."
- 1D: One known for finger-pointing (Uncle Sam) - good one. I had ACCUSANT at first. Is that ... something?
- 41D: They may be received by free subscriptions (podcasts) - I listened to "Fresh Air" and "This American Life" PODCASTS all last fall on my drive back and forth to the prison in Elmira. Very, very useful technology. Way more useful than the dreaded E-CARD (20A: Modern greeting).
- 54D: "I _____ Lover" (1979 John Cougar hit) ("Need a") - more childhood memories; I'd forgotten he sang this. He doesn't come into focus for me until about 1982 (circa MTV and the "Jack and Diane" video).
Mysteries and miscellanea:
- 19A: Un article defini (les) - ACCUSANT at 1D led me to UNE here, despite the fact that I not only understand French, but also know Very well the difference between definite and indefinite articles. Ugh.
- 21A: Plays intensely, in jazz slang (wails) - I like this clue / answer pairing, for no particularly good reason.
- 26A: Fictional upper class (Eloi) - you can't hide from me, ELOI. You think just because you're clued without reference to "Wells" or "race," I won't know who you are? Ha. You'll need a better disguise.
- 31A: TV's Spike, once (TNN) - Isn't the channel's name "Spike TV?" Apparently not - this damned channel has had more name changes than John Cougar!
- 45A: Game with sticks (nim) - ??? I feel like I've been befuddled by NIM before ... OMG, it's the dorkiest of math dork games, all the rage with the BRASS RAT set, no doubt.
- 2D: "It's the truth" ("so help me") - took me an Embarrassingly long time to get this, even with --HEL--E in place.
- 13D: Long Branch Saloon visitor (Dillon) - never heard of this place. The Saloon seems to have been a real place, but Marshal Matt DILLON is a fictional character on "Gunsmoke."
- 23D: Bond girl player Shirley (Eaton) - NOPE (5D: Informal demurral), don't know her.
- 33D: Preacher Beecher (Lyman) - Also, the distinctive flavor of Sprite.
- 37D: Small, round sponge cake topped with fruit and whipped cream (Mary Jane) - how did I know this? You know what a better, much shorter clue would have been? [Good name for a pothead?] or [80's R&B group The _____ Girls].
- 63D: Fort Worth sch. (TCU) - Horned Frogs! I had SMU here, then corrected myself (in my defense, SMU is very close by, in Dallas).
Thanks to all those who wished me well over the past few days. I am feeling much better this evening, so your wishes must be working. It's that, or the Excedrin. Either way, I'm happy.
Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld